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November 2010

No Sunday Night Journal this week

I was about halfway through writing at 9 or so last night when I decided I really ought to check on some things at work, having managed to ignore them since last Wednesday. I found that the database software on my main system had locked up, and spent the rest of the evening, until way past what should have been bedtime, trying to get it working again. I succeeded, but when I checked on it early this morning it was locked up again. Eventually our software vendor repaired the problem, but it was a pretty stressful day. Then I stayed late at work. And I had to run an errand on my way home. And I don't have the mental energy to finish the SNJ now. So I'll just let it wait till next week. A few random-ish things:

Here's something interesting: writer and blogger Amy Welborn has a column in USA Today. And it's a good one (of course), about the pope. I thought she had quit blogging after the untimely death of her husband a couple of years ago, but she seems to be pretty active again. I should put her blog back on my sidebar. Actually I have a list of at least a dozen sites that I should put there. Actually I have at least a solid week of work to do on this site.


What a hassle that transition from Blogger to TypePad has been. I really want to switch the URL so that it points here, but have postponed it several times for various reasons. Currently I'm planning to do it soon after Christmas. I'm waiting because once again I'm getting a great many visitors looking for Karen's Advent pictures, and most of them are Google searches taking them to And those addresses won't work anymore when I change the URL. I've redirected the Advent page there so that it comes here, and am hoping Google is smart enough to detect that. Not that it really matters that much, but I like the fact that people are enjoying the pictures. Interestingly, it seems that most of those searches come from Europe. I also need to put up larger versions of those pics--some of them were squashed to fit the Blogger column, because I hadn't figured out that Blogger would scale it for me and link to the original.


Back to the pope: the amount of misunderstanding and at least partly deliberate misreading of the pope's comment about condoms and AIDS has really been mind-boggling. I wonder how many millions of people now think the Catholic Church has abruptly changed its mind about contraception. The subject came up at my house on the day after Thanksgiving, with a couple of my in-laws' in-laws. Cradle Catholics, they were pretty scornful of the Church's teaching. I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to be a troublemaker. And I really think that teaching is almost impossible for people to understand until or unless they have attained an idea of sex as the holy and immensely significant thing it is. Without that, it just seems crazy. I haven't especially enjoyed trying to live by the Church's teaching on this. But I believe it is correct, and so I don't regret the effort.

If we--men and women, husbands and wives--really loved each other as we are supposed to, with the deepest and strongest love of which we're capable, there would be no disagreement with this teaching. Although it still wouldn't be easy to follow.


Here are two pieces about Sarah Palin, courtesy of my friend Robert: a blog post and an article in The Weekly Standard. The first is more positive than the second. The Palin phenomenon sort of fascinates me: as I've said before, there is much to like about her, and yet...I have a feeling that she is going to turn the next Republican presidential nomination process into a train wreck.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

I don't suppose anyone who is at all interested needs my encouragement to go see this, but if you're undecided: it's really good. My wife and two of our adult children went to see it last night, and we all liked it, including Clare, who grew up with the books and loved them. I really enjoyed it--more than I did the book, actually, which seemed rather unfocused to me. Perhaps I'll change my view of the book if I ever read it again, which I may not. But I'd go see the movie again right now if it were convenient. It's very well-crafted and as usual well-acted, and quite moving. I'm just sorry that Part 2 isn't coming out till July.

Ella Fitzgerald: Midnight Sun

Weekend Music

This is rather late for the usual weekend music post, because I've been busy with Thanksgiving-related activities, and I was just going to skip doing it this week, but my friend Robert sent me a link to this appreciation of the Lionel Hampton/Sonny Burke/Johnny Mercer song "Midnight Sun," including a clip of Ella Fitzgerald singing it.  I'm linking to the article instead of just including the video because it's very much worth reading. One of these days I'll write something longer about Johnny Mercer.

The Game

Well, the Alabama-Auburn game, aka the Iron Bowl (because it used to be played in Birmingham, which was built on the iron and steel industry) is coming up tomorrow. For those who haven't been around Auburn and Alabama fans, which I expect is almost everyone who reads this blog, this piece will give you a good idea of how crazy the rivalry  is. I decided earlier in this football season that I was going to resume the sporting tradition of wishing Auburn well except when they're playing us, but it hasn't been easy to do. But the intensity really needs to be turned down a few notches. It is, frankly, insane to invest that much emotion in a game—I mean to the point where you really hate other people just because they are fans of the other team, and feel like your own sense of self-worth, or something, rides on the outcome of a game. It's especially absurd when it pits the people of a state which doesn't in general have a lot to be proud of against each other. 

One thing that always strikes me is that the players don't act that way. They spend an hour trying to smash each other, and then you see them on the field after the game shaking hands and talking. Notice, for instance, the way the Alabama players talk here. They're intensely competitive, but respectful.

A few weeks ago, watching the Auburn-LSU game, I thought they were both very good (which obviously they are), but I also thought that on a good day we could beat either of them. Well, we had a bad day against LSU. Here's hoping the a good one arrives tomorrow. I hope we win, but if we lose I hope Auburn ends up number 1 in the nation. Roll Tide.

The existence of language is one of the many phenomena—of which love and music are the two strongest—which suggest that human beings are very much more than collections of meat.

—A.N. Wilson

Fleetwood Mac: Go Your Own Way

Weekend Music

Well, the music by married couples, or bands including married couples, theme has pretty much run its course. I'm down to couples who weren't happily married and got divorced long ago, and/or whose music I'm not that crazy about. I'm afraid I never liked Fleetwood Mac a great deal, at least in their most commercially successful period. They were very capable (great rhythm section), and I didn't actively dislike them, but hearing their songs a few times on the radio was enough.

But I always thought this song was a killer. It's almost cheating a bit to use it, because the married couple were the bass player, John McVie, and the keyboard player, Christine McVie, and this song features other people--another couple, actually, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, but I don't think they were ever married. But I like it a whole lot better than some of their bigger hits, e.g. "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow". Yuck. I never did care for it, and then when the Clintons used it as their inaugural theme song, my view of both was confirmed: bland '70s pop for establishment liberals.

This track has got a real edge, though. Love the drums in the verses.




From the moment that man died on the cross, the word sacrifice became a huge word, a great word, and it revealed—as when the sun rises, like a sun that rises—that the whole life of every man is woven of sacrifices, is full of shudders of sacrifice, is, as it were, dominated by the need to sacrifice...

...sacrifice becomes the keystone of all life—life's value is in the sacrifice one lives—but also the keystone for understanding the history of man.

—Monsignor Luigi Giusanni (via Magnificat)

"She's so gosh darn happy"

I think this thesis of this piece, that "Sarah Palin's happiness is what really irks liberals,"  is only partly true. Her detractors can present much more solid reasons for finding her an objectionable political personality. But there's probably a little something to it. For an awful lot of people who are on what I call the cultural left, which is more concerned with criticizing traditional social institutions than with ordinary politics, and which overlaps but isn't identical with the political left, a decent and reasonably happy middle-class American family isn't really supposed to exist. The American family is the family of American Beauty:  disturbed, repressive, disintegrating, outwardly pleasant (maybe) but rotten with dark secrets. I can imagine that Palin's upbeat straightforward middle-class-ness is an extra twist of the knife to those who already detest her. 

It's the counterpart of conservatives vs. Hilary Clinton: we didn't like her politics, of course, but it was her Nurse Rached vibe that really drove us crazy. 

Of course she annoys and worries a lot of conservatives, too—with good reason, I think (read the comments on that post). I don't think she could win a presidential election, and if she won I don't see much reason to think she'd be a good president. I sort of like her but I think she'd be wise to stick with the activist-cheerleader role she's currently taken on. Or else go back into Alaska politics and get some more experience before venturing into the national arena again.

And speaking of Mrs. Palin: "refudiate" is the Oxford American Dictionary's word of the year. I think it's a great word myself.


"Mahler's childhood was not idyllic: His first composition (age six) was a Polka with an introductory Funeral March."

—James Penrose, reviewing a new book about Mahler in the November New Criterion (not available online except to subscribers)

How Cats Drink

With great precision and no mess. Perhaps you've already seen this; if not, you should. Be sure to watch the video.

The natural world is full of astonishing things. And the more closely we look at them the more astonishing they seem. I recall watching my little dog Andy one night as he considered whether or not to jump from the chair he was in to the chair I was in, or to jump down to the floor, then back up to my chair. It was not so close that he could simply do it, nor so far that it was obviously hopeless. Also the angle was a little awkward--the chairs were at right angles to each other, which would make the takeoff and landing a little more difficult.  He sat there and fretted for a bit, indecisive, and it occurred to me that an enormous work of analysis was going on in his brain: all sorts of computations involving distance, velocity, mass, and energy, which I'm sure would be difficult to replicate, and even more so to replicate in a machine that could do similar work in any situation in which a dog might find himself. And then there was the fact that he somehow knew that the jump was risky but not impossible. These things only fail to impress us most of the time because we're surrounded by them. (Andy finally decided to try the jump: he made it.)

Mid-Week Miscellany

Just a few quick notes--I had sort of wanted to comment at more length on these but ran short of time:

The Future of Social Democracy: English (Telegraph) columnist wonders why the U.S. is starting down the path that Europe seems to be coming to the end of.

Related sentiments from Germany: "The US has lived on borrowed money for too long." Amen to that. But it isn't going to change, short of a complete crash-and-burn of some kind, without causing us a fair amount of pain, and I don't know that we have what it takes to make sacrifices anymore.


Some conservatives, emboldened by last week's electoral victories and annoyed by NPR's firing of Juan Williams, have decided that now is the time to press on with a truly terrible idea: de-funding public broadcasting. Ok, in the abstract there is a good case to be made for getting the government out of that business. But apparently government is only a small part of their budget. And despite my disagreement with NPR's politics, they do a huge amount of really excellent work which is not dominated by politics: for instance, Terry Gross's Fresh Air. If I should ever be in a position to be interviewed, I want the operation to be performed by Terry Gross.  Let's cut out some of the actively harmful and/or really expensive things the government does before getting all puritanical about the few tax dollars that go to public broadcasting.

And anyway,  an all-out attack on NPR/PBS would be a huge gift to the Democrats.


Those crafty racist conservatives are attempting to mislead the public by electing non-white candidates. Perhaps Nancy Pelosi can attempt to put a stop to this while she's still Speaker. It would be a fitting legacy for her--remember her call for the Tea Party to be "investigated."  (By the way, if you click on the word "seriously" at the end of that post, beware: it takes you to an anti-conservative screech by someone amusingly named Tim Wise.)

Speaking of race-obsessed liberals/leftists: "Whiter than a Stewart-Colbert rally." Heh. Turnabout etc. 


Mist on the delta early last Saturday morning, taken with my phone through the car window, so not very good, but still, sort of nice, I thought:


I may lose it if I hear the word "iconic" many more times in trivial contexts such as "the iconic Thanksgiving dinner."

What Happened at Cana

Sunday Night Journal — November 7, 2010

(This will be brief, as I was out of town all weekend.)

I went to a wedding this weekend. As is often (or is it always?) the case at a Catholic wedding, one of the readings was the story of the wedding at Cana. I’ve always thought there was something odd about this story—I mean, apart from the fact that it is hardly normal for water to become wine so quickly, and with no grapes involved.

In the King James version:
And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

In the New American version:
When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” (And) Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”

“How does your concern affect me?” has always struck me as one of the low points in a translation which rarely rises to beauty. But no matter how it’s translated, there is an element of rebuff in Jesus’s reply, a bit short of “Go away and leave me alone,” but not very far short.

But that’s not the odd thing, or at least not the oddest. I realized, hearing this passage yesterday, that what’s always bothered me slightly about it is that it seems disconnected. There seems to be some missing dialog between what Jesus says and Mary’s response. He suggests pretty strongly, though not quite saying explicitly, that he doesn’t intend to do anything to help her. And her response? Not a word to him, just an order to the servants. She doesn’t answer him, he doesn’t seem to change his mind, and she tells the servants to do whatever he tells them without giving any indication that she knows what, if anything, he is going to do.

Something must have passed between them in the silence between his question and her response. What was what, and how was it conveyed? What changed his mind—if that’s what happened, if he wasn’t simply challenging her? Did he communicate to her that he would provide the wine, or simply that she should trust him? The latter seems a bit more likely to me, though of course one can only speculate—but it seems as if her instructions to the servants would have been more specific if she had known exactly what was going to happen. Did the look on his face tell her something, or did they have some means of reading each other that was more acute than the normal human ability to guess what someone whom we know well is thinking—something perhaps closer to telepathy?

However the two are mixed, there seems to be, on Mary’s part, some combination of trust and understanding, or perhaps I should say she understands that she must trust. Even if he told her what he was going to do, this is, as far as we know, his first miracle: she would have to trust that he could do it. At a minimum, she understands that she is to turn the matter over to him. The lesson for us is obvious, but maybe there’s something else here which is not quite so obvious: a glimpse of how accurate and intimate and beyond words may be the communication between two unfallen people. Unfallen, or redeemed.

I was pretty sure Einstein never said that

I just saw, for the 20th or so time this week, that annoying pseudo-adage: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Generally it's accompanied by the claim that Einstein said it.

I think it was around the 300th time I heard it that I thought wait a second--that doesn't even especially make sense. A lot of doing the same thing over and over is involved in the acquisition of most extremely refined skills, e.g. playing  a musical instrument. You do the same thing over and over and gradually you do get different results.  Of course you don't in fact do exactly the same thing, but that's what you're trying to do: to get this one thing just right. Obviously there are situations in which doing the same thing over and over is clearly a mistake, but hardly "the definition of insanity."

And then I thought what's more, I don't believe Einstein said it. Apart from the fact that it isn't all that clever, it doesn't sound like him. Apparently I'm right.

The original of which this phrase is a variant makes much more sense: "Insanity is repeating the same mistakes but expecting different results."

Ike and Tina Turner: River Deep, Mountain High

Weekend Music

I usually don't get around to posting these until Saturday morning, but I'm going to be out of town this weekend.

Years ago, when I started hearing people refer to this as one of the greatest rock-and-roll singles ever recorded, I couldn't understand why I had never heard it. I certainly heard plenty of top-40 radio in the mid-'60s, when it was released. I just found out, by way of the All Music Guide entry on the Turners (not a happy story), that it was a huge hit in the UK but flopped over here. I am in fact hearing the original for the first time today, having heard several covers over the years. I must say it deserves its reputation.


Here's a very shall we say dynamic live performance. I don't know where they are--it almost looks like some kind of tunnel or something.


About the election

I've been thinking all day (I've had a day off from work) that I should sit down and write something about the election. (Perhaps some outside the U.S. haven't noticed: we just had an election in which a great conservative wave washed over the government.) But I haven't been able to make myself do it. It's not that I don't care, but it seems so...tiresome to put much effort into commenting on politics. 

For the record, then: I'm pleased that the Democrats lost, less so that the Republicans won. As I've noted before, I have a certain degree of sympathy for the Tea Party, and I think by and large they're right to oppose the Democrats' agenda. I don't know that I would want them running the country entirely according to their wishes, but maybe they can exert some meaningful counterforce to the increasing centralization in Washington of more and more aspects of life. One of the ironies of our political life these days is that the party of "diversity' is pretty much dedicated to stamping out diversity in some very important ways.

I hope a serious effort will be made to repeal the Obama health care law. We desperately need reform of our crazy health insurance system, but what the Democrats gave us appears to be even crazier. And if the Republicans in the House do come up with a more sensible approach they probably won't be able to get it past the Senate and Obama. So that situation will probably continue to slowly deteriorate. 

I'm sorry Harry Reid won. He seems an odious fellow. I'm glad Nancy Pelosi won't be Speaker of the House. The degree to which the two of them are disliked around the country is really pretty striking.

I hear that the odd "Rally for Sanity" last weekend ended with a genuinely conciliatory speech by Jon Stewart, though I haven't listened to it. (I have trouble sitting through long videos on the computer--it does something to my attention span.) In particular, I've read that he suggested that people quit dismissing the Tea Party as racist. Good for him. I hope people heed him. As I know I've said before, the promiscuous and reflexive accusation of racism against any person or movement of somewhat conservative bent is a poisonous and dangerous tactic that needs to stop.

Ok, well, I'm already tired of trying to write about this. It strikes me now that the reason I find it tiresome is not that I don't have anything to say, but that I have too much, and I don't have time to say it all, and the attempt to pick just a few points to remark upon is oddly aggravating.


I should say something about the election, but I don't really want to bother...maybe tomorrow.

I don't know why, but I've gotten very interested in the birds I see on my daily walks with the dogs. I find myself really wanting to know their names, what song goes with what bird, and so forth.  I'm having trouble identifying them because I rarely get a view that's clear and close enough. I know this is a kingfisher, though. 

I want a new camera, one that will let me zoom in much closer.